Digital Legacies

The internet is an everlasting realm of information. Through its vast amount of resources it constructs a mountain of data that before the digital era was impossible to find in such a neat, coherent format.

Now with just a couple clicks of the index finger we can find exactly what we are looking for.

What we publish on the internet will live forever. While this marks the peak of the information age, this elongating existence creates an ethical issue known as digital legacies.

Kelly McBride, the Ethics Group Leader at the Poynter Institute, describes digital legacies as what is “created by names that appear in text”.

Thus, every person a journalist names in his/her story is engraved into the data mountain. That article will follow that person everywhere they go: at their new job, at their future, in-laws, at their kids’ school -everywhere. How does this happen?

Googling: the new phenomenon that everyone does when they meet someone new.

Search engines allow information on our peers and anyone to be accessible at a moments notice. This new verb is used by mothers, employers, dates, and most likely anyone who meets you.

The information can be extremely useful. It gives the public access to government records. It informs local communities of criminals and sex offenders. Google is a possible mine field for everyone’s skeletons that are in the closet.

What type of consequence does this priceless information hold? There is no privacy, and the past is always lingering in the background.

The engravements on this mountain for many people may be flattering, but for many they are an unwanted mark.

Many see these documents as vital, providing an entire new meaning to democracy, and in some instances is a safety guard. This information comes at cost to the people it concerns.

“It is a difficult situation. The SPJ president would say that we all give up some part of our privacy in order to protect the whole” says David Carlson the Society of Professional Journalists President from 2005 to 2006.

Now, how does this affect you as a journalist?

The subjects you interview now have a threat lingering above them. There is no certain answer to how to solve this issue.

Even if you act responsibly, your article can affect someone’s entire life.


5 year old arrested

In 2005 a 5 year old was arrested at her elementary school. The entire incident was caught on videotape, as the teacher that day was recording the class for evaluation. The full story can be found at: Story by St.Petersburg Times. The St. Petersburg Times had access to the videotape and debated whether or not to upload it onto their website. Once uploaded, the video was being viewed instantly by thousands of people within the Tampa Bay area and the country. The controversy over the upload is that a digital legacy has been made of this girl. A reputation set at 5 years old. Every time she is googled this story will appear.

*This example was given at Kelly McBride's (Ethics Group Leader at the Poynter Institute) lecture at the University of Florida in January 2008.